Legislation has been introduced in New York that creates a new reason to kill: “mental suffering.” As I explain to the NYS senators who will be debating this bill, there is no definition of what constitutes “mental suffering” and no standards to how it will be applied, allowing pounds to kill animals based on the animals’ perceived state of mind.

All animals can experience stress on entry to a pound. Many of these animals are used to sleeping on beds and couches or even living on the street and will find their familiar routines upended in a confined place that is loud, dirty, unfamiliar, and disorienting. S8029 would allow shelters to kill these animals, rather than mandating time to acclimate and/or that they be socialized, transferred to rescuers, or adopted into homes.

Not only is this a real and immediate threat to shy and scared animals, as well as feral cats, but it is a first-of-its-kind, very dangerous precedent to introduce in the animal control laws of our nation.

My letter is here:

Dear Chair and Members of the Domestic Animal Welfare Committee:

On behalf of the New York members and supporters of the No Kill Advocacy Center, we are writing to urge a No vote on S8029. While the introduction suggests that the bill is designed “to provide increased protections for the care of animals,” it instead provides political cover for their killing. Indeed, it doesn’t require shelters to make animals available for adoption, to partner with rescue organizations, or to pursue other lifesaving outcomes. It does, however, create new incentives for municipal pounds to kill animals, subjects non-profit rescue organizations to a bureaucratic stranglehold that limits their lifesaving capacity, and expands the duties of an already stretched Department of Agriculture & Markets without providing additional funding to do so.

S8029 introduces a first-of-it-kind, dangerous precedent in the U.S. for killing homeless and lost dogs and cats.

S8029 creates a new category to legitimize killing: “mental suffering.” There is no definition of what constitutes “mental suffering” and no standards to how it will be applied, allowing pounds to kill animals based on the animals’ perceived state of mind. All animals can experience stress on entry to a pound. Many of these animals are used to sleeping on beds and couches in homes or even living on the street and will find their familiar routines upended in a confined place that is loud, dirty, unfamiliar, and disorienting. S8029 would allow shelters to kill these animals, rather than mandating time to acclimate and/or that they be socialized, transferred to rescuers, or adopted into homes. Not only is this a real and immediate threat to shy and scared animals, as well as feral cats, but it is a first-of-its-kind, very dangerous precedent to introduce in the animal control laws of our nation.

S8029 imposes requirements that are unneeded, expensive, and counterproductive, limiting the lifesaving capacity of non-profit organizations.

S8029 treats home-based rescuers like municipal shelters by defining an animal shelter as one that can “also serve[ ] as a personal residence.” The bill then imposes annual licensing and home inspection of rescue groups by the Department of Agriculture & Markets, thus increasing the responsibilities of the Department without providing funding for additional inspectors. Not only will this stretch a department that has not been able to meet its current obligations, but inspectors of the department would have to look for violations that make no sense in a home environment, including the use of “a decibel-meter” to measure, record, and maintain logs of sound levels and requiring floors to be “non-porous” even though most homes are carpeted or have wood floors that pose no threat to animals.

While the No Kill Advocacy Center is not opposed to reasonable and thoughtful regulation of non-profit rescue organizations, S8029 imposes obligations on those rescuers by requiring a host of unneeded and counterproductive mandates that make no sense in a home environment, increasing costs, and chilling rescue activity. The end result is that animals who otherwise would have been saved and adopted out by rescue groups at private expense will die, at public expense, in New York State pounds.

S8029 is so poorly written, even mandates that were designed to save more lives will end up resulting in a higher death toll.

S8029 imposes on animal shelters the requirement of spay/neuter before adoption, which, if thoughtfully written, would make sense and we would enthusiastically support. It isn’t. Without a corresponding mandate of increasing adoption outcomes or collaborating with rescue organizations to place animals, S8029 creates a perverse incentive. As history has proven, regressive shelters, those without veterinary staff, or those in communities with limited veterinary resources will respond by killing the animals instead of making them available for adoption so they could avoid the sterilization mandate.

Senators, at a time when our country is gripped in a shared crisis, rescuers have responded admirably by increasing their assistance to vulnerable, at-risk animals in shelters otherwise facing death by taking those animals into their homes and caring for them at their own expense. In many communities, they have completely emptied those municipal shelters, saving lives, protecting shelter staff, and reducing taxpayer expenditures.

Day in and day out, these rescuers show tremendous courage and compassion visiting their local shelter, a place that is hard for animal lovers to go. And yet they go back, again and again. In some communities, they endure the hostile treatment. They endure the heartbreak of seeing the animals destined for the needle. They endure having to jump through often unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles set by shelter directors. S8029 does not seek to rectify this. Instead, it would make their lives and their work even more difficult.

As such, it fosters neither fairness, nor respect, nor consideration for people who both need and deserve it. Animal rescuers are already donating their time, their energy, their resources, and often their emotional well-being to save animals when shelters won’t. The least we can do is not stand in their way.

We should not be passing legislation that treats these heroes as villains.

Very truly yours,
Nathan Winograd

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